The role of father’s in lives of America’s children has become so marginalized and so undervalued that it has created an epidemic of poverty that will take several generations to undo once we have the political will to finally admit that our ‘war on poverty‘ diagnosed the wrong problems and prescribed the wrong remedies.
The bipartisan 1996 welfare reform law that was heralded as the end of “big government” and a signature achievement of bipartisan cooperation in Washington was supposed to restrain the welfare state. It has not. While the immediate benefits put many welfare recipients back to work and off the dole and, in fact, were a huge success, Washington has lacked the political will to expand the efforts deeper into the welfare state where lasting change could have been achieved. And the consequence is that 80 other welfare programs remain largely intact and growing, now costing American taxpayers some $700B annually for means-tested programs.
The goal of welfare ought to be increase self-sufficiency. Ours has increased dependency. Since President Johnson crusaded in the mid 1960s, Federal spending on means-tested welfare programs has topped $20,000,000,000,000. That is a staggering sum, especially given that as stated by the US Census Bureau, 46 million Americans live in poverty. And the failure is real. When the war of poverty began, 14.7% Americans were living in poverty; $20 trillion later it has RISEN to 15%.
Why? Because we have systemically failed to address the root behavioral problems that lead to dependency in the first place. That is namely the literal obliteration of the American family. In fact, our programs have exacerbated them. Nearly 70% of people living in poverty are households headed by unwed parents. 70%! Nearly 40% of all American children today are born out of wedlock. 40%. That is 1.7 million children born annually to single mothers.
These are heartbreakingly staggering statistics. And we know marriage helps, as children in married households are 82% less likely to live in poverty. A survey by Princeton and Columbia shows that 56% of unmarried mothers will be poor, but just 17% would be poor if they married the father of their children. Men must be fathers and husbands. They must step up.
Additionally, the astonishingly high rate of unemployment means fewer jobs able for uneducated workers, increasing their dependency on welfare programs.
The war of poverty failed to address either of these issues – marriage and employment. In fact, many of these programs encourage recipients to be jobless and unwed – spirally a cycle of dependency.
The remedies are unequivocal. We must encourage strong marriages. We must restore the role of fathers in the lives of children. And we must focus the power of the government on creating an entrepreneurial climate where job creation is the primary focus and where work requirements are the key element of any welfare program.
We must act. Federal and state means-tested welfare spending is on pace to top $1.56 trillion in 2022. Reformers have their work cut out, but I am convinced that conservative leaders who care about the future of America must declare war on the war on poverty with a positive, proactive agenda that restores work requirements, cuts bureaucracy and regulations that ignites job growth and that aggressively communicates and protects that marriage.
Our nation’s future depends on us getting it right this time.